There is a small yet vocal segment of the TTRPG community who argues that playing tabletop RPGs online is inferior to the live “in-person” game. They claim something is lost when you remove the personal interaction you experience being in the same room together. I’m not saying there isn’t something be gained from it, but I won’t accept that it diminishes the experience. I would know. Over the course of the last 37 years, I have gamed both ways.
The Social Game
I am big advocate of playing Tabletop RPGs (TTRPGs) online. That may or may not cause you to stir a bit. Your reaction will likely depend on your age, your familiarity to TTRPG’s and experience (or lack thereof) with online gaming. There is a segment of the RPG community that holds firm to the idea of bringing people together in a room to exploit the benefits of human interaction. Tabletop RPGs are best when players are in the same room. I’m not about to argue against that, but I’m not all-in either.
I agree in that children and young adults have the most to gain from group settings. And, we know that roleplaying games are especially unique in that they require players to collaborate to achieve a common goal. Roleplaying games teach important life skills like conflict resolution and collaborative problem solving. RPGs are wonderful tools for exercising the imagination and positive social interaction. Unfortunately, adulthood brings about changes in our lives that make the group setting impractical, impossible and perhaps even undesirable.
Advancing the Online Game
I have great memories from my youth, gathered around a table with friends playing Dungeons and Dragons. The social skills we developed as kids sitting around that gaming table get put to the test on a daily basis in adulthood. At the end of a week, or even a day, I’m seeking solitude. It’s at these times I really appreciate the ability to continue to gather with friends and get my game on, but to do so online. Were there not an online option, my TTRPG days would have ceased long ago. The people I have introduced to tabletop gaming probably wouldn’t be playing now, and perhaps never would have, if we had not met.
More Time for Gaming
My last in-person group fizzled in 2007. For several years, we were 7 players strong. After a couple years, tri-weekly games slowly evaporated due to growing families and conflicting schedules. It found new life for a couple more years online – using map tools, but mostly theater of the mind. Some of my best gaming memories are from that time. Perhaps this is because we actually played more regularly. We went from once every 3rd week to once a week for 2 hours.
Gaming from the comfort of our homes allowed more flexibility with our schedule. Gaming more frequently was a plus and being more available to family put less of a burden on loved ones. This didn’t translate to more distractions as one might think. It’s reasonable to expect that there would be interruptions from husbands, wives or children, but that wasn’t really the case. The reality is that being home means that you are not up against the clock. Players don’t have that “I gotta be home by XX” hanging over their head. Driving time is replaced with play time. Also, the pressure groups sometimes feel to get to “point A” in the game since they won’t meet again for 2 or 3 or more weeks is greatly diminished.
For a time, I thought I would try expanding my game to the local gaming store not far from my house. Unfortunately, it was not the right experience for me. Five times I played games at the store with different groups of people. I concluded the environment is better suited for young people honing their social skills and people who have limited options for social interaction. I fit into neither of those groups. One day I may return to run a game.
My Game Today
Today, my group meets online every Friday night. With a few exceptions, we haven’t missed a week since March of last year. In our group we have players from Washington DC to Washington State, and we have become really good friends. This past March we all gathered together at my house to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. Yes, we played “in-person.” It was great, but honestly it didn’t feel much different than our usual Friday night except for the fact that we played for eleven hours straight instead of two or three. You can read about our weekend here.
Online Gaming is the Future
When it comes to my gaming life, I have to say I am very satisfied. I have gained several solid friendships over those years as well as maintained old friendships over great distances. The only thing lacking at this time is not getting the occasional opportunity to sit in the player’s seat, but that’s mostly my fault. I love to sit in the dungeon master seat and find myself missing it when I am anywhere else. But, online gaming also exposes me to a larger player base.
If in-person interaction is high on your list of priorities then online gaming is going to leave you wanting more. It doesn’t mean that meaningful interaction can’t take place where man meets machine, however. The internet is bringing us closer together every day. As a species, we are learning to adapt to the change as it draws us closer together every day. The reality of online tabletop roleplaying games is that it’s an extension of the in-person game. It provides the positive social aspects of the in-person experience to people who may not have that otherwise.
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Since I have touched on the positive social aspects of tabletop roleplaying games, I’d be remiss not to share the story of Ethan Gilsdorf and his TED presentation entitled “Why Dungeons and Dragons (any TTPRG) Is Good For You”